South Korean Indie Music vs K-pop: It’s All About the Money

South Korean indie bands, looking indie. Probably because they can't afford anything.

A poorer cousin of K-pop, the Korean indie scene is apparently not the place to make money, as the below article reports, arguing that even bands who have had some measure of success can rarely make ends meet. Some cite the amount of “idol” bands filling the charts in as the cause of this, whilst others point to the ‘mercenary’ nature of the Hongdae club scene.

Some netizens are saying the fans themselves are to blame for not spending enough on their favourite artists, others argue its just the bands that need to raise their own profiles, and the rest say it’s the Chaebols that have spoilt the music scene for new bands.

It is worth noting that in Korean that the use of the word “indie” does not refer to a specific genre in the way it might to our English-speaking readers. It is used here to refer to Korean punk acts of renown like Crying Nut and No Brain, as well as more commercial pop-rock artists like CNBLUE.

From Naver:

‘Almost No Bands Make A Living Through Music.’

‘1 million won a month is practically nothing. Music is my dream but as you get older, it gets harder to stand.’ A (38), runs a bar in at Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, in Seoul. He was, 3 months ago, a guitarist in an active and successful indie band, that once topped the indie charts, and made their way into the public eye by writing music for dramas. However, despite being ‘on a roll’ they never earnt more than a million won a month. ‘In the indie world establishing yourself financially is not easy even if you have a following. There are nearly no bands making enough to get by through music.’ The members of A’s band have moved on to managing cafes, bars and schools, or just drifting between different jobs. But, this is not to say he’s given up music, he dreams of rekindling his love for music once he has raised enough money.

Three of the few bands able to make a living from their music in the Korean indie scene, (L-R) Crying Nut, No Brain, and Nell.

Of the roughly 500 bands native to the Hongdae club scene, there are only around 10, including Crying Nut, No Brain and Nell(Pictured, L-R), who are able to make a living. Many have pointed out that in order to help diversify Korean music, indie bands would have to have been able to perform steadily for 20-30 years.

There are currently around 500 bands native to the Hongdae area, and this estimate is separate from the one given by the Record Label Industry Association of Korea. Of the roughly 100 bands playing this year’s rock festivals, the bands able to make a living amounts to less than 10, and they tend to be well known acts such as Crying Nut, No Brain and Nell

In the year 2000, rookie indie bands made their way into the public eye, and began to be paid on a monthly basis. Popularity was rewarded with the assurance of Korean releases, and pay was around a million won each. These despotic ‘slave contracts’ are greatly praised amongst business circles.

The number of indie bands playing at rock festivals who are capable of earning the minimum cost of living (in 2012 around 55 million won) is estimated to be around 100. This is because, outside of business events, there is no real profit to be found from rock festivals. Album sales are only a publicity issue and, the truth is, the sales market has sort of died, with digital recording sales returning a mere 5% to each singer.

According to high-ranking fan club members, we are fast approaching the ‘free stage’. More than ten venues, such as Club FF, Evans, Hauter, Jammers, Spat, Ta, Drug, GoGoS2, and others, are holding animated concerts in the Hongdae area, but the earnings from these events are extremely poor. Most clubs will only start paying the artists money from the admission fee if the audience has more than 10 people. The effect of this is a B-list band getting 12 people to come would then have to split the profit from those two people 5 ways. So it is common for bands to be playing a venue that’s getting 2-3 million won without receiving a penny.

Korean indie music agencies have said ‘Clubs are looking for an audience of 5-30 people on weekdays and 70-100 on the weekend, this is not easy and every club has the same requirements.’ adding ‘Club management won’t see profit from ticket sales and whilst they make a little money on selling booze, recently the sums haven’t added up at closing time.’

In their late 30s the young artists who determined to ‘make a living with music they like’ will start working in bars or cafes, teaching at schools, working as private tutors, or any job which will help them avoid joining the ranks of office workers.

An indie agency representative has pointed out ‘People may have formed programmes like EBS’s Hello Rookie, KBS Top Band, and KOCCA’s K-rookies, but there’s no real public interest. In order to help diversify Korean music, indie bands would have to have been able to perform steadily for 20-30 years.’

Cultural Critic Jeong Teokhyeon has said ‘The world of indie plays an important role in nourishing Korean music.’ and ‘This market needs help if it is to develop. Band must be increasingly and regularly invited on shows such as ‘I’m a singer’(KBS) and ‘Immortal Classic’(MBC)’

Lee Hyun

[email protected]

Comments from Naver:

dla5****:

I’ve witnessed Infinite Challenge’s situation… they beg…. even though their albums sell well, it moved me.

gwak****:

No mistake can be made when reading this atricle in full.

dbst****:

Because Chaebols are so absorbed with wealth, they have monopolised the world of music.. Shows like SM’s Junior Idol decide what we hear, and it doesn’t change, so we never hear anything good… Honestly, although indie music may be good, and have a lot of good songs, because there are so few releases the situation is not ideal.

hjyj****:

Indie music must live. We can’t buy hook songs and idol music anymore.

bill****:

A great deal of the Hongdae bands come from the music schools, but playing classical instruments and graduating a music school do not mean you can make a living, so many of them are lucky to be able to give private lessons at local music schools, so they certainly aren’t in bands, but it would be good is they could blow a wind of change into the music industry through this.

qoeh****:

When MBC tried to save indie bands it seemed like a bit of an obstacle, so it would be sensible for if now anyone up and coming to get a good kick.

kagm****:

Honestly bands like FT Island and CNBLUE say things like indie bands. Apologising to their fans amounts to nothing more than words, and bands can’t honestly acknowledge every single person who likes their music. Anyway, I’ve found that simply connecting unnecessary instruments to drum beats in 4/4, or else 8/8 has become a repetitive exacting lance. Truthfully, it’s because of Wang Biho that FT Island has begun to become a husk. Since Buzz, although a lot of these concerts take place, 90% of the live performances are pre-digested idol-esque artists, and, since then, they look like they’re just puppets pretending to be something they’re not.

tmdg****:

Even the quality of idol artists has begun to drop these days… It’d be great if they’d shine the light on some good indie band by getting them to perform on prime time music shows.The bands appearing on air are fakes like FT or CNBLUE … It sucks.

5925****

There’s a lot of people angry on behalf of indie like this… Why aren’t their albums being sold? Because self-declared fans haven’t spent their money on them… We confidently cuss the idol bands without refusing to go to their concerts and whilst still spending money on them. People actually concerned about Korean music aren’t spending money on it.. isn’t it a joke?

like****:

Isn’t Idol a horrible thing.. A ssibal overflow by the way.. How about some bands hire agencies to make them look better and raise their profiles?

enbi****:

These comments are ridiculous. What’s the logic behind not being able to earn money through doing something, whilst not caring about earning money? Whether you do what you like or not, you should do your job. You shouldn’t base your dreams on Korean resentments. Giving up part of your dreams in the face of reality is your personal choice, but musicians are crying out nonetheless, and they are legitimately paying the world back through their music.

akih****:

Nam Chin once played bass.. He gave up and now it’s getting heated… He was working hard on his band … He moved toward session work to earn his living.. It’s hard to make a living through music in this country..

mbcc****:

Guckkasten really aren’t as good a band as Nell so can’t earn money like them. If they want to be independent artists, how can they make money? To earn money like Buzz they’d have to give up releasing the music they like;”

kjs1****:

Aren’t these programmes trying to help something that can’t be helped??? So these music markets will remain small.

Comments from Twitter (Via Daum):

@rootandbranch87:

Segye’s article “Almost No Bands Make Living Through Music” is right. It’s horrible! Reading the comments is upsetting me. Why do they think it’s not ok to dream of making money through music? Why’s it so dirty to make money through art?

@Minmiyo:

These bands make good music so this article, ‘Almost No Bands Make Living Through Music,’ is especially upsetting for me

Comments from Twitter:

@heebong

@rootandbranch87 I thought it’d be exciting to post Noel Gallagher’s tweeted comments but…

Comments from Daum :

강정모님:

There are now 500 bands native to Hongdae, and this estimate is separate from the one given by the Record Label Industry Association of Korea. Of these, only 100 have received enough attention to play rock festivals.. Earning a living looks difficult, but everyone seems to be keeping their spirits up!

Kress님:

This was a good article, I enjoyed reading it.This vortex of inter-related disposable artists leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

지구인님:

How about studying hard for exams?
People naturally hate studying, and immediately forget things even when they’ve studied very hard.
That’s human nature.
The newest neuroscience suggests a solution.
A Lazy person’s brain tricks them.
This secret to doing well in exams is to ‘trick the brain into studying’.

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  • Sigh, it’s unfortunate that people who wears lots of make up and gets tons of plastic surgery makes more money than people with actual talents. Not only can they sing, but they can also play musical instruments. INDIE MUSIC FTW!!

    • Sillian

      You don’t have to praise the indie musicians at the expense of the commercial pop stars. Blame the market structure and the fans. Many of those pop stars are hard-working and talented people, too. In addition, most of them do not get ‘tons’ of plastic surgery. It’s way too exaggerated because there are many insecure people who feel better when they believe the famous pop stars are all plastic dolls. Gossip media has been taking advantage of that. You’d be surprised to learn that many stars you probably assumed to be heavily plastic are indeed pretty much natural.

      • Snazzy_Brett

        “You’d be surprised to learn that many stars you probably assumed to be heavily plastic are indeed pretty much natural.”

        I’m wondering, who looks like they have had surgery that hasn’t? Usually, the bridge of the nose or extremely shaved cheeks are a dead giveaway…

        What is “pretty much natural”? Is that like, “injected fat from buttox into face, but no invasive surgery”, or “had small invasive procedures, but nothing that completely changed their look”, or “died their hair”?

        • Sillian

          I am not an expert in plastic surgery but I can confidently say there are a load of commercial pop stars who do not deserve to be labelled with ‘tons of plastic surgery’ which implies they altered their looks considerably. What I mean by the phrase ‘pretty much natural’ is that you cannot definitely tell whether they did something on their face or it looks like they might have done something barely invasive. I’m leaving the room because at the end of the day, we don’t know who’s 100% natural or not, sitting in our armchairs.

          • Snazzy_Brett

            I don’t think calling everyone a “plastic doll” is fair either. I do, however, think its fairly easy to tell if someone has undergone the most common procedures (ie nose job or cheek shaving), not that it makes any difference to me.

            I don’t care what a woman or man does to their own body, as long as they aren’t doing it to satisfy other people, but to make themselves happy. None of my business either way, but I think that we can agree that surgery is prevalent in the KPOP industry. There are websites dedicated to the before/after shots for both women and men.

          • Sillian

            I do not view plastic surgery in moderation negatively, either. I am merely pointing out that the plastic surgery label is inaccurately and excessively thrown when it comes to K-pop stars. Asian teens are overwhelmingly more interested in who might have had plastic surgery than natural beauties. Websites or blogs that fulfill their curiosity proliferate. They collect and compile every single unflattering picture they could find. Quite a few rumors from selectively chosen bad pictures have been debunked over time though. What’s easy to forget is that you can also compile a large list of the ‘pretty much natural’ K-pop stars. I do think many K-pop stars visit cosmetic clinics but ‘tons of plastic surgery’ is definitely not the norm.

          • Snazzy_Brett

            I would like to see a list of most popular Kpop stars crosschecked against your list of natural stars (not “pretty much natural”, thats a cop out if I’ve ever heard one). I mean current and newish stars who you seen in advertisements and on tv 24 hours a day. I don’t think anyone can argue against the mutual relationship between “beauty” and “popularity” here.

            Again, I really don’t care, but it seems like you are taking this a little too personally. You are focusing on the words “tons of” to try and ween your arguement on, but its just a cheap arguement. Isn’t saying “pretty much natural” just a nice way to say “fake”? Even “a little fake” is still somewhat fake.

            Your first comment mentions that some stars are “hardworking and talented”. That may be true, but “hardworking” and “talented” don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.

            Point: Can you see any reason why Girls Generation is popular, aside from the fact that there are 9 beautiful and skimpy dressed women in high heels prouncing around on a stage?
            -Their music is truly terrible (subjective), with no emotion, just roboticized chanting layed over catchy beats.
            -Most of the girls have OK kareoke voices, with two or three who can really burst out and they carry the group through.
            -Dancing is simple enough that most kindergarteners can do the moves.
            -They lip sync at concerts.
            –The only things they have going for them are great legs, flat bellies, and pretty faces. They are sex symbols and that seems to be working, good for them. I’d prefer the tv on mute. O_o

          • Sillian

            Hey, thanks for spending some time and making interesting comments. I’m enjoying it. I decided to bother picking on the tons of plastic surgery comment because I think comments like that are exaggerated, unfair, repetitive yet not often challenged. He used that phrase to paint them negatively. As I explained, I used the ambiguous phrase ‘pretty much natural’ because obviously I or anybody for that matter cannot be 100% certain but it’s still within the range where there is no merit to call them plastic. IMO there is no or one member with plastic surgery in these popular girl groups like f(x), Kara, 4minute, Wonder Girls and 2NE1. In Girls Generation, I think about half of them got whatever done. Nothing I would particularly call tons or the like though.

            About the talent comment, I just wanted to point out that it is unfair to paint them all talentless just because they are commercial pop stars. Some of them have practiced very hard for many years. It should be noted that casual observers and fans can see very different things. Let me go over the Girls Generation example you gave.

            – Their upbeat dance music is not for emotional engagement but they also have many nice ballad type songs. Many fans pick this as their strong point but casual observers might not even be aware of that.
            – Four members are usually considered vocal carries. Taeyeon is best known for her vocal skills when she sings the right songs.
            – Key dance moves are meant to be easy to remember and mimic. However those dance covers just don’t feel the same. If you watch their choreography closely, you will realize their seemingly simple movements are very calculated and refined. Dancing in synchronized formation requires much practice too.
            – They fully or partly lip sync at concerts with some dance music. They usually perform about thirty songs at a concert and I think at least 2/3 of them are live.
            – That’s what casual observers might say. Fans see much more than that. I think your judgement is mainly limited to those weekend music shows.

          • Kate

            I thought about replying to your absurd claims that kpop stars are “natural or mostly” but you know, not even gonna start into it…..you believe what you believe, thats your right, but Koreans have brougt the plastic surgery reputation on themselves, no one else does it to them but them. All I know is that out of all the Korean women I personally know, not.anyone famous, 8/10 had plastic surgery done and the other 2 just needed to save more money. Aside from young girls and ajummas, I rarely have met a korean woman with a natural face. But hey you keep what you think is true.

          • ChesterCheats

            Their ballads actually do display quite a large amount of emotion, but I’m assuming you’re judging them based off of their title songs such as “gee” and “oh” which is what everyone makes their basis on when it comes to girls generation.

            There are four vocal powerhouses and five dancing powerhouses. But I’m assuming you’ve never watched a video of their live ballads or their freestyle dances, so you’re once again making a judgement based off of their title tracks and the dance moves they used for promotion, which I must add are not as simple as the eye makes it seem. But in turn, pop music is meant to have easy dance move for the sole reason of people being able to do them. I have yet to see a girl group really break it down with extremely difficult dance moves that are comparable to their male counterparts.

            I wont argue the fact that they do lip sync, but they also sing songs live at their concert as well.

            I would argue that they also have their personalities as well. But I’m assuming you’ve never watched them outside of MV’s and such. They are extremely sweet, funny girls and it’s actually the reason a lot of people like them.

            But honestly, please tell me which group doesn’t sell sex appeal as well as an image. Even 2NE1 who is seemingly different from other girl groups image wise, relies heavily on their image and clothes, they also have their fair share of sex appeal (ehem Minzy).

            Quite frankly, there aren’t really many Kpop groups with amazing talent but they are flashy/pretty/shiny and that’s what brings in the viewers. People like shiny things.

          • chucky3176

            You’re right. They’re no match for Justin Biever, Taylor Swift, One Direction etc. in musical talent.

            … pullleeesssee..

          • chucky3176

            You know what i think? You guys are silent and don’t mind it when Asian girls are going ga ga over such stars like Justin Biever and Jonas Brothers. But you guys get all hopping mad and annoyed when Asian girls go ga ga over SNSD or Big Bang. I think this double standard is based on the power dynamics between West and East. You are not mad because kpop is bad music. You just don’t like the fact white men are losing control of the media promoting white men only, and Asians are turning off and actually start to give attention to Asian stars. When I say “you”, I don’t mean “you”, Brett. I’m not singling you out.

          • Kate

            Are you a woman Sillian? If you are, are you a Korean woman? I can tell you exactly why plastic surgery is bad, especially when it’s as obsessed and promoted as it is in S. Korea. As a woman, if you are a woman I’m sure you know this, we are pressured a lot to fit someone else’s definiton of beautiful We are always told, how you look naturally is ugly, you’re ugly until you look like “insert generic look”, you’re worth less unless you meet this criteria of beautiful, you’ll never be good enough, you’ll never get a man or keep a man if you don’t look like this, your skin is ugly if it isn’t this color, your hair is ugly if it doesn’t look like this, if you don’t have the eyelid crease, then well your eyes are ugly too! Flat nose? UGLY! Not 45 kg? FAT FAT FAT FAT FAT FAT FAT FAT!

            Women are always told they are ugly, they are less, they are undeserving, they are not desirable or lovable if they don’t look a certain way. Of course, most people, most Koreans, do not look ANYTHING like the K drama stars or the Kpop stars, because how can they? The famous, wealthy people get extensive surgery because they have money and they’re in a very superficial business that promotes a very narrow definition of beauty. So, you have young girls that watch these people, that self hate themselves so much that they develop eating disorders, incredibly low self esteem, always self hating, thinking something is wrong, that they are from a lesser God because God didn’t make them as beautiful as the women on tv. They are lesser of a person then those beautiful women because their skin is brown, their nose is flat, they don’t have a double eyelid crease, their faces don’t fit under a CD, they don’t have the “S” line…..

            Of course, those famous women, they don’t naturally look like how they look at all. They are plastic, because they too are trying very hard to fit into a narrow definiton of beauty that is ONLY attainable through plastic surgery. Sure, they probably are above average attractive naturally (well some, not all, Miss Korea 2012 was pretty ugly naturally) but that’s what’s wrong with it. They get plastic surgery, when they don’t need it to begin with, and what they end up doing is raising the bar of beauty even further away from how naturally Koreans look. The features that are so highly regarded in Korea (pale skin, high nose bridge, small angular faces, big eyes with double eyelid crease) are not naturally Korean features.The majority of Koreans are not born with any of those features, they are not apart of the Korean ethnic look, but yet that’s what is considered beautiful. The definition of beauty is so far removed from reality, that it makes everyone miserable about their appearances, thinking they are ugly because of their natural ethnic Koreanness, and the only solution is to have a surgeon cut their face up.

            As a woman, and especially as a mother, that is horrible. I never want my daughter, who is half Korean, to think that because she has light brown skin that she is ugly and needs skin bleach. No thanks. Korean girls are under tremendous pressure to look a certain way because of how rampent and far removed plastic surgery is in Korea.

            Plastic surgery is horrible because it just keeps on promoting that very narrow, unrealistic definition of beauty, putting women down, contributing largely to self hating and low confidence, and is just a means for very insecure people to try to “fix” something about themselves when nothing was wrong to begin with.

            blahblahblabhalb haasdlkjf

          • Kate

            And imo, the natural Korean look IS beautiful, if I didnt think so I wouldnt of married a Korean man. My sister in law is a natural Korean woman, no surgery not even eyelid, and she is very pretty. Im glad she never gave into.the pressure and she is.that more commendable. At least her daughter looks like her.

          • Sillian

            Hey Kate, I know what you mean and it is well within my expectations. I strongly agree with you that social pressure on appearance is excessive in Korea. I know a few female friends who have done the eyelid crease surgery. These days, Korean plastic surgeons look like seasoned businessmen with endless ad campaigns. I think there should be some kind of leash at some point. Now I’d like to point out a few things in your argument.

            I’m not new to K-pop. I’m not just talking with vague impressions or assumptions about K-pop like most white foreigners would do in my observation. I actually know what I’m talking about with gory details.

            If you actually, actually pay close attention to the popular Korean stars who are very famous for their beauty, chances are, you would learn that they are more or less natural beauties. I gave a list of popular K-pop girl groups above. They are all big names in K-pop. Google their childhood and pre-debut pictures extensively Not just one good or one bad picture. ‘Extensively’ is the keyword if you want to talk with real substance. If you can type some Korean, search in Korean too. They have been analyzed for years by many attentive K-pop followers. Also, for a quick peek, go to YouTube and find ‘Korean stars childhood’ videos. Keep in mind that those pictures in the videos are a tip of the iceberg.

            If you keep paying real attention, you will also notice that K-pop looks aren’t really that monotonous. They can look very different from each other especially behind the thick makeup. Some of the popular female pop stars don’t even have the eyelid crease. Surprise, surprise.

            When I was growing up around other Koreans, those ‘future celebrity material’ girls were everywhere. Surely not in the majority but still consistently visible in most social groups I was in. That is also ‘a’ natural Korean look. Not very frequently but still naturally occurring look from ‘full-blooded’ Koreans. Also, 30% of Korean females are born with natural eyelid creases. Should we brand them as not ‘authentic Korean-looking’? They shouldn’t be marginalized, too. The problem begins when other Korean girls want to look like them too much..

          • chucky3176

            Your sister in law did get plastic surgery. So did your boyfriend or
            hubby or whatever. He’s practically another Michael Jackson. Remember,
            99% of Koreans have done completely ripping out their faces and did
            reconstructions, as did your hubby who’s really ugly.
            In fact,
            looking at your picture, it looks like you’ve done a couple of
            procedures yourself. Maybe a little wrinkle elimination? face lift? nose
            job? and even Botox. You look totally unnatural, no offense.

          • Snazzy_Brett

            Chucky how could you be such an asshole, and then write “no offense”?

          • Sillian

            Well, your asshattery like this destroys any little credit you can possibly have.

          • Kate

            He’s been told that often already Sillian :)

          • Kate

            Rant, Rant, Rant Chucky. You know sometimes, you can add really interesting POV to a topic and information but then you turn around and are a complete ranting cunt that negates from any positives you add to a conversation.

            You get so butt hurt over any criticism of Korea or Koreans. All I did was give my opinion of what the plastic surgery obsession in Korea is unhealthy. I’m entitled to that. And you know, Koreans bring the reputation on themselves. They advertise to the whole world the fantastic talents of their surgeons. You know, as well as anyone who goes to Korea, that there are plastic surgery ads everywhere. In subways, plastic surgery ads, usually featuring a homely Korean woman who is transformed into a beautiful woman, from peanut to wedding cake. Whitey isn’t putting those ads up Chucky. Whitey also didn’t pick Miss Korea 2012, A REPRESENTATIVE FOR SOUTH KOREA ON THE WORLD STAGE……Foreigners look at the before and after pics of her and think that must be the norm for EVERY exceptionally pretty woman in Korea. SHE REPRESENTS KOREA. KOREANS PICKED HER TO REPRESENT THEM AND SHE IS A WALKING 360 PLASTIC SURGERY AD. Can you blame people for thinking beautiful women in Korea are fakers? Look who you have representing your country. If you don’t want that reputation, then stop promoting women who DO get complete face transformations.

            Also, why always the personal attacks Chucky? Why do you feel like you have to attack my family and HUSBAND? This isn’t the first time you try to attack me so personally. It just makes you look like a complete angry dick you know. And no, I have had no plastic surgery at all. But hey, thanks for thinking my skin looks so good, it must be the result of plastic surgery! I take really good care of my skin and the women in my family age really well (My mom is 50, completely smooth and wrinkle free skin and she doesn’t even try). . And my nose is just that cute, but thanks!

            Seriously, this is the last time I’m replying to you. You have zero manners and are just a mean person.

          • chucky3176

            I see that I hurt your feeling? lol. Relax dear, it was a joke. Don’t get too upset. Look’s who’s ranting now? You just said most Koreans get plastic surgery. That most also includes your precious hubby and your inlaws, if your odds are correct. I’m just going by your own stated number of odds. If you can generalize about people you don’t know, why can’t I generalize about people I don’t know too?

            Miss USA never get boob jobs? Miss USA never got nose jobs? Hollywood actresses never get facelifts? You know what? You Americans do need more plastic surgery – the liposuction kind that is, with what you guys do to your bodies. Before you go off on me, you Americans brought that on to yourselves.

            lol.. At least we Koreans take care of ourselves and care about how we look.

          • Snazzy_Brett

            I wish you made more sense. It isn’t even fun to ridicule you because I get the feeling that you honestly believe all this garbage. It would be like making fun of the Special Olympics.

          • Sillian

            I don’t really mind walking plastic surgery ads doing gigs on TV as long as they can bring something entertaining to the table but applying for Miss Korea is too much. I even suspect some key figures in the pageant committee could be affiliated with some plastic surgeons’ union because promoting high-profile plastic surgery cases is great PR for the plastic surgery industry. It’s become a big business that even draws foreign currency. Naturally pretty Korean girls must be annoyed by this whole plastic surgery campaign. It’s like they have to prove that they are natural if they want to get acknowledged for beauty.

          • Sillian

            Kate and Brett, so have you done some real ‘research’ as I suggested? The best way is to find childhood and pre-debut pictures and compare them to current bare face pictures with similar facial expressions and angles, not the most dolled-up photogenic pictures. This takes some good netizen skills. Long-time Korean entertainment followers know loads of popular stars are ‘pretty much natural’. It’s common knowledge. However, I have noticed that putting ‘Korean stars’ and ‘natural’ in one sentence can cause such knee-jerky ‘no no no nonsense!’ reaction from casual observers. It’s almost like they have been brainwashed but I can’t blame them seeing how much plastic surgery campaigns are going on in Korea.

          • Snazzy_Brett

            @disqus_OJpFMI0mRW:disqus just in case you are implying what I think you are implying, I haven’t downvoted a single one of your comments. In fact, I upvoted 2 of them. The only downvote I can claim is to chucky being a dick (like usual)… for the record, I haven’t upvoted my own comments either.

            Just because you say you’ve made sense doesn’t make it true. You labeled me as a “casual observer” and think I made my judgements based on 2 of SNSD’s songs. I have heard many of the “ballads” that you mentioned and I still think my “emotionless robot singing” argument holds. Maybe “true fans” can notice the subtleties in the dance moves, but don’t try to call a donkey a horse.

            @chestercheats:disqus you make a lot of assumptions for someone trying to make an argument. It seems like overall you agree with me that sex sells and beauty (often) equals popularity for these girl groups. You also agree that the talent pool isn’t huge in the Kpop scene.

            Ok, so the only place where we seem to disagree is on SNSD.
            I get it, you are an avid supporter and leader of the SNSD Fanclub. You get all their newsletters and buy their merchandise. You storm the interwebs looking for someone talkin’ smack ’bout yo girls. You have watched every live performance and know all the girls’ bios.

            Good for you. As embarrassing as it may be, I admit to watching far more SNSD live televised concerts than the normal man should. I put the blame on my wife and her sister, but it was my own fault for not leaving the room.

            I want to know what you think a vocal “powerhouse” is and why you think SNSD can claim to have even one. Just because individuals in SNSD have a powerful voice doesn’t mean that they use it. The truth is, the songs are sung poorly to make it easier on the girls to replicate live. Nothing wrong with that strategy, and so far it seems to be working famously. It does, however, lead to an emotionless and characterless performance no matter how much you disagree.

          • Sillian

            I should make it clear that I’m talking here with general readers in mind while unfolding my arguments with specific posters. I think you are reasonable. Also, opinions on a pop group’s talents are opinions. I was focusing more on the relevant arguments from the ‘tons of plastic surgery’ comment.

            If you wake up in the morning and suddenly feel like discovering more of Girls Generation or SNSD, YouTube is your kind buddy. Your bolded sentence is very true. They don’t have enough opportunities to show their full energy on TV. Their performance level is usually watered-down. When they promote their new songs, they have to endure killer schedules. They will pass out if they have to pour all their energy into each performance. Amusingly, their better vocals can be heard when they cover somebody else’s songs on radio, concerts and such. People usually pick Taeyeon as the best singer in SNSD. She has covered many songs, some of which are quite decent.

            YouTube suggestions: Taeyeon, Reflection, Because You Loved Me, Lady Marmalade, Take a Bow.

            If you are more interested in K-pop vocals, check out Ailee. She is a fast rising star. She’s one of the few young K-pop singers who can do fair justice to American R&B powerhouses’ songs IMO.

            YouTube suggestions: Ailee, The Greatest Love of All, Stand Up For Your Love, Halo.

          • Snazzy_Brett

            I agree Taeyon can sing. I disagree that covers should count as something SNSD does well.

            I’ll check out Ailee, but dont think comparing real singers with entertainers is fair. That would be like comparing Lee Seung Chul, Jung Yup, Kim Bum Soo, Park Jeong Hyun, or In Soon I with SNSD. Not even the same league.

          • Sillian

            Oh yea…those are good veteran singers. I think the line between ‘real’ singers and entertainers has become a bit blurry lately.

      • Seanshine

        Ah no! Before I even knew the dynamics of South Korea I knew of their plastic surgery history. Those with money have been traveling abroad for such surgeries for many years. So please don’t even start up-playing the All Naturale bit.

        • Sillian

          Wealthy people went abroad for all types of surgeries in the past when Korea was still underdeveloped. I heard Japan was a popular destination for their advanced clinics in the past. However, I don’t see how this is any relevant. Nobody is saying every pop star is all natural.What are you even trying to assert?

          • Seanshine

            thats the question I should be asking you? We’re speaking of Koreans aren’t we, or is it the Japanese? I’ve made my point in reference to KOREAN stars etc. What part aren’t you understanding dear? Also, now that I’m looking at the post , its clear that the commen to which i was referring to has been removed.

          • Sillian

            Let me go over with you. You said wealthy Koreans had plastic surgery abroad in the past. I said that is correct, just like many Asians come to Korea to get plastic surgery because Korea has good cosmetic clinics today. I asked how that contributes to the specific discussion I’m having with Brett. You even said ‘don’t even start up playing the all naturale bit’ but nobody was saying every Korean pop star is all natural or anything along that line. So what was that?

          • Seanshine

            Firstly, the naturale thing was actually a topic of discussion between my friend and I about races and bleaching etc. Not many folks are natural anymore, if is not the bleaching eye color or surgery then its something else. In all my friend had jut told me of posters in Korea of celebrities who pose for coametic companies that had work done and the marketing campaign gear a towards natural beauty. So seeing you post that is why I made my comment. Nothing more, nothing less. I know definitely japan does it and they have powders, and bleaching cremes but you weren’t speaking of Japan. :)

          • Seanshine

            It sounds like I may have offended you and I am sorry the comment came out the way it did. I love the topics here and the people whether good or bad. what’s important to me is that’s engaging and i can take sometning away from it that ive learned. I figured thats why we’re here right, not to solve the worlds problems. :)

          • Sillian

            Okay, I understand where you are coming from. I need to get back to Brett. =)

      • Please give me a list of K-pop stars who are “natural.” Also, it’s fact that most K-pop stars wear TONS of make up. Both guys and girls. That’s not “natural.”

        • Sillian

          I already mentioned some popular girl groups in one of my comments to Brett. Everyone knows they wear heavy makeup especially when they are performing. So do musical or opera actors. Not sure why you would mention that negatively.

  • Jang

    Who would go to Hongdae and be part of the 12 people audience that attends when you can’t find a taxi/taxis refuse to take you home unless you live 50 miles away? Kind of like Gangnam as I remember.

    • Kate

      So true about taxis in Hongdae…….

  • Snazzy_Brett

    I’ve never been to a Hongdae club… I know some college aged friends who are students but play the area at the same time. Are a lot of these bands made up of kids who never went to school, but decided to try and make it big on music instead? Poor decision in a country where “indie” is synonomous with “no one cares”.

    • Seanshine

      I agree with you. Also, the country is still growing, everything in its time.

  • Commander-in-chief

    One realistic assessmet on Indie music   Historically, artists have been in financial straits. In the past, they replied upon aristocrats’ financial patronage for their uninterrupted commitment to the art–practices that occasionally recur in the form of donations raised by auctioning houses.   In other cases, they compromised their artistic philosophy to make a living, though their attempt were not always successful.   The music word, as in other fine art fields, is charaterized by a winner-takes-all. The most popular and talented artist takes the lion’s share of fame and popularity and money.    For musicians, writing or sining a song is the reason of their existence: they cannot hold back their unbridled passion for music.   However, what is left unsaid is that ordinary people lead their lives while doing what they dont like to do–something that passionate artists cannot accept as their own fate.   While enjoying the luxury of doing what they want do, music artists want the public   to appreciate their their musical world, not vice versa.  Some musicians might say that making a song that is commercially tasted is tantamount to the abandonment of artistic spirit.    Is it true? Is it really happy when singing a song that draws little popuar applause?  It is certianly not.   I think indie musicians should pursue a balance between their musical passion and commerciality. Once gaining popularity, they will be given more opportunities to show their music to the public– a presumably ultimate goal for musician who want to share their tunes with a wider spectrum of audience.   The sudden disapprearance of stages for indie musicians in Hong dae, the non-mainstream music mecca, shows a harsh lesson that some people who are as passionate in making a money as musicians’ enthusiasm about songs, will not offer performance stages for musical artists unless they achieve a commercial success.   The bottom line is that indie bands should be more commerically attractive before unfolding their genuine musical colors if they want to continuously walk on a musical road.

  • I think that Korean indie bands are more likely to find success in the Japanese indie scene than in Korea.

    CN Blue started off as an indie band playing sold out gigs in Shibuya and Harajuku. That says alot about Japan’s “trend culture” especially it’s big scene of indie musicians in comparison to the Korean indie scene of Hongdae.

    For me, i’ve found more success DJing at indie gigs in Japan than in Malaysia, and that says something. The Japanese indie scene is where Korean indie bands should go to flourish at.

  • As someone who is directly involved in live music in Korea, this is a subject of which I have quite a lot of experience. One of the main problems is that most of these bands are far too keen to follow the path of all the others both in terms of their business model and their music, so you have a huge number of bands that look and sound exactly the same and all ripe and keen for exploitation by a small number of agencies. Because there is little to differentiate one from another, they are in no position to negotiate a reasonable contract because if they turn down whatever they’re offered, they know that they can be quickly and easily replaced by another identical band that will. These bands also have a pretty short shelf life and know that they have to take whatever limited success they can grab before they’re old hat. It all adds up to a buyer’s market for the agencies and promoters.

    Another issue is the live music scene. Venues pay little but can potentially make a lot of money from a busy show but there is no kind of profit-sharing for the band that made the show successful. This too is down to there being too many bands that are willing to give it away for free, and a limited number of venues that all operate the same system. This issue probably requires some better organization on the part of the bands and some reasoned discussion between bands and venue owners. Any band that plays a night that charges an entrance fee should be negotiating for a percentage of that fee and/or a cut of the bar take. Bands need to play their position better rather than moaning that they can’t make a living. Bands as a whole are vital to the prosperity of the venues and they should capitalize on that fact. Equally, their needs to be a system whereby untested bands can get exposure and experience at free nights without expecting to be paid. This too requires the co-operation of bands and venue owners.

    Above all, these so-called indie bands really need to diversify their product, stop blindly following trends and promote themselves more astutely. ‘Indie’ music is meant to be about artistic exploration and experimentation, not cookie-cutter ‘punk’ bands that all sound the same as each other. Most of these tired cliche-mongers quite deserve to live on the poverty line. They’re not musicians, they’re simply posers playing at being musicians, and until they can produce exciting, original music, they won’t have a strong position from which to negotiate with agencies and venues. In short, they need to make themselves indispensable, rather than instantly replaceable. And perhaps they might also like to try playing somewhere other than Hongdae.

    • A Lu

      Any good indie band to suggest?
      I know quite a lot of good chinese ones from my own experience and some japanese ones suggested by japanese friends. But none of the south koreans I’ve met in China know anything about korean indie music.
      Disappointing yes, but not surprising at all after reading this post

  • I believe people a little too easily associate “indie” with “highly artistic value” and “pop” with “crap that will devour your soul”. Indie doesn’t automatically mean great music. I’ve been into music for long enough to see that “indie” as a whole is now a pretentious circle. There are good musicians on both sides of the coin, good “independent” artists and good “big agency artists”.

    And what PS has to do with singing abilities? Someone either can sing or not, and in the long run, being pretty won’t help if the voice is not there. Judging that somone can’t sing just because is in a band made of 273265 members, and – on top of that – based on one catchy single shows lack of proper understanding. To judge a band, one needs to listen to the whole album, few live performances as well.

    PlasticS, if everyone likes that so much here, it may be problematic when actress/actor is cast in the sageuk/taeha. Few directors are complaining they can’t find any natural actress to play a part in this-or-that historical movie, but that’s another problem.

    Indie music is overglorified by many, and people tend to forget that indie is destroying itself. Wannabe musicians who barely can play their music miaouling on the streets, composing identical songs won’t be treated seriously, because after a period of excitement about new things, people start to look at things more critically (Kpop also falls in this category, for all pop-haters).
    Article mentioned CNBlue? Well, their every album sounds exactly the same, where’s the diversity? And Nell is hardly an indie music now.

    Anyone remembers Pastel Records? They had gathered few nice not-mainstream artists who could sing and play. Not just random kids pretending they’re in a band.

    Now, I’m ready for a backlash.

    • Sillian

      You have some good points. As to the sageuk (historical drama) comment, I’m reminded of the movie director Im Kwon Taek. He held an audition for a new actress that fits the traditional beauty role for Chunhyang. Unlike TV dramas, I think movies have showcased diverse beauty types in leading roles.

      • It was him, thank you, it just slipped my memory.

    • iLoveYoungjaeAndXiumin

      Exactly. People seem to forget that there is good and bad on BOTH sides.

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  • ickychora

    It’s a really, really depressing reality for musicians trying to make innovative heartfelt music here. I am an aspiring musician in the Hongdae area and I’ve seen so many enormously talented friends dedicate their lives to their music, only to have huge conglomerate-backed festivals pay as little as 50,000 won per gig. Their instruments and equipment are worth literally thousands of times that. To invest so much and reap so little… and it’s not just about money, not at all, but the minimum wage is not making the living wage any longer, and a person has to feed and clothe and bathe themselves and keep a roof over their heads. Even mere exposure is so hard to come by for musicians.

    I mean I this IS to some extent the norm for creative individuals hoping for a future in the arts industry – I’m aware that Hollywood is awash in aspiring creative types doubling as baristas and waiters and serving staff, and so is Hongdae. But that’s where the similarities end. The difference in breakthrough opportunities is depressing as fuck.

    I’ve been racking my brains out over what I might be able to do to make a difference, while carrying on with my music, and I made a blog where I chronicle the ins-and-outs of indie music in Hongdae: seoulmutesick.wordpress.com . It’s still in its infancy but I’m adding to it daily, so do stop by to hang out if this is something that strikes a chord with you.

    • Chucky3176

      Whatever you do, I hope you don’t give up on your dreams. We need more real musicians like you to try to make a difference in a world awashed in kpop kiddie-pop.

      • jodieisme

        Ha, kiddy pop.. LOL

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